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How to Define the PMO’s Role

leadership pmo pmo leadership project management May 17, 2023
How to Define the PMO’s Role

You may have seen memes themed “You Had One Job.” They demonstrate supposedly simple or basic jobs that have gone terribly wrong. For example, instead of painting FIRE on the road in front of a fire hydrant, it’s spelled FRIE; or, TURN LEFT is on a road where the arrow points to the right.  

Go ahead and give it a try. Search for “you had one job” and you’ll find yourself going down a rabbit hole of laughter. 

Now, we’re not saying that running a PMO or being a PMO Leader is a simple or basic job. But we are saying that as a PMO Leader, you, too, have one job. “Well of course,” you may say, “and that’s to deliver projects.” Many may feel this way, but it’s not right. The single job of the PMO is to achieve the purpose of the PMO as set forth by executive leadership. There’s a reason WHY executive leadership created a PMO, and it’s your job as a PMO Leader to deliver on that purpose. That’s your one job. 

The reasons PMOs exist are going to vary from company to company. Some may have a financial focus, others may concentrate on governance, and yet others on increasing collaboration. Not quite sure the reasons for yours? Go up your management chain and find out. You’ll eventually come across someone who was there at the PMO’s inception. That person can give you an understanding of what the environment was like at that time, what problem needed to be solved, and ultimately, why your PMO exists. 

Once you understand your PMO’s role, start executing on the reason why your PMO exists. The following four items will help you succeed in this one job.  

  • Follow the PMO Playbook - To execute on the purpose of your PMO, you must make sure that it is set up and operating properly. This includes granting the PMO authority within the organization, staffing it properly, ensuring the process is being followed, and setting boundaries to ensure work stays between the guardrails. 
    If you don’t have a playbook for how your PMO operates, create one. The PMO playbook is a collection of processes, procedures, and policies project managers use when managing projects. It contains your PMO’s explicit and tacit knowledge, which, if followed, results in increased productivity and efficiency as well as the ability to deliver a consistent quality of work. Read How to Create Your PMO Playbook in 5 Steps to get started. 
  • Deliver Results, not Projects - The days of “Yes, executive leadership team, all of our projects came in on-time, under budget, and within scope” are over. That used to be the measurement of whether a PMO was operating effectively, but times have changed. Today’s standard is how a project or portfolio increases sales, reduces costs, guarantees compliance, or whatever else is important to your company’s leadership. You should define these measurements and bake the capability to capture results into the plan from the beginning. 
    It all comes down to the value you deliver. Ultimately, your PMO exists to deliver value in one way or another. Ensure your projects are successfully integrated into business operations so benefits can start being derived and captured. Read 7 Steps for Projects to Deliver Benefits for ideas on how to make this happen. 
  • Take the Complexity out of the Complex - We all know people that LOVE taking something simple and making it sound like they, and only they, with their years of experience and knowledge, have been able to figure it out. They may want to prove how smart they are, ensure job security, or do so for other reasons. We subscribe to Albert Einstein’s philosophy (a smart guy with job security) of “genius is making complex ideas simple, not making simple ideas complex”. 
    An example of what this looks like in practice is to start with the reason why your PMO exists. Metrics and KPIs around this reason are what your executive leadership team are going to be interested in. They’re not going to be interested in a 50-page PowerPoint detailing the status of all projects, risks, next steps, and accomplishments as red, yellow, or green. They’ll want to know whether or not the completed project delivered the intended business results. Give them those simple numbers! 
    Think about it this way. The owner of a baseball team may not want to know about batting averages, RBIs, or on-base percentage. They want to know if you won the game! Likewise, your leadership team doesn’t have the bandwidth to absorb all the nitty-gritty details of the projects your PMO is running. They just want to know if they delivered the intended results. The lesson? Stop showing low-level measures to high-level executives. 
  • Ask How Their Project Tasted - To make sure you are successfully delivering on your role as a PMO, follow up with executive leadership during and after project delivery and ask how they feel the PMO is doing. It’s the same as asking How Does Your Project Taste? Zero in on whether or not you are achieving the original purpose the PMO was created for. Then, adjust as necessary. Remember, in the world of the PMO Squad, PMO stands for Purpose, Measure, and Optimize. Understanding the reason why you exist (purpose), identifying results (measure), and then adjusting based on the answer to the question (optimize) will ensure you are bringing value to your company. 

By now, you should realize that the role of the PMO is to achieve the purpose of the PMO as defined by executive leadership. This is why you exist and why you have only one job. Now, do everything you can to make sure you stay off of those internet memes! 


How to Define the Role of Your PMO  

The following steps will make sure you are delivering on the reason why the PMO was created. 

  1. Ask Why the PMO Was Established - Identify someone on the executive team that was around from the beginning of the PMO’s creation. Find out why there was a need for the PMO, what problem needed to be solved, and how the PMO was tasked to do this.
  2. Fill Your Role - Once you know why the PMO was established, make sure you are fulfilling that need. Follow your PMO playbook, deliver results, take complexity out of everything you do, and follow up with executives on how you and your team are doing. 
  3. Continue to Improve - Finally, based on the feedback from executives, continue to optimize your PMO’s performance. Look for adjustments both big and small that will continue to set your PMO up as an integral part of delivering business value. 

Following these steps will ensure you know what your one job is, and more importantly, allow you to execute on your one job masterfully! 


Playbook - A document or collection of documents that outlines a set of instructions, processes, templates, and procedures for your PMO. Great for making sure project delivery is consistent, training new employees, and maintaining a high quality of work. 

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